Needed: candy for the Jungle

08:03 AM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

On Friday, October 31st, we will open the doors of the Jungle, as we do each year on that date. We seize this one-night-a-year opportunity to evangelize the children, while simultaneously keeping them off the streets and out of harms’ way. As usual, we hope that they will feel loved and have the time of their lives playing, singing, and learning about God. That night, in addition to a hot dog for dinner, we plan to give each of them a bag of candy on their way out the door, so they won’t feel like they’ve missed out on anything, but rather have had a better experience than JUST trick-or-treating. BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP! IF  YOU WANT TO DONATE CANDY  FOR THIS EVENT, PLEASE CALL US OR BRING IT TO OUR OFFICE ASAP! We expect to receive close to 200 kids that night.


Kids playing in the Jungle club

to Coffee Country, with kids

10:39 AM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

We just got back from a wonderful, week-long trip with the 24-hour care kids, during their Fall break.  God provided through many people, some of whom gave money specifically for recreation with the children, and we were able to take a dreamed-of vacation to the Eje Cafetero of Colombia: the main coffee-producing zone.  It’s beautiful, green, and warm, with very friendly people. recuca After a loooong trip there (those who went in the car took 17 hours, whereas the kids were in a bus all night long), we arrived to the house of a generous Christian family that was hosting us, had some breakfast and organized a bit, went grocery shopping, etc., and headed to the local Pereira zoo.

zoo animals                zoo pereira

Over the next few days we continued exploring the states of Risaralda and Quindío: Calarcá’s botanical garden and butterfly house, Armenia’s coffee farm tour, Salento’s colonial architecture and the Cocora Valley’s hiking trail.  Each experience was different, new, and enjoyed by all. Mid-week we loaded up and went to a beautiful farm called Canaan, which we were invited to stay at.  Formerly owned by a narcotics dealer, the installations were exquisite, with Spanish colonial details at every turn.  The kids loved the farm animals and, of course, the pool.  (For these “cold country” kids, a vacation wouldn’t be complete without a swimming pool.)  We loved the river and the peacefulness of the area. canaan piscina Thursday we had to return from the “Promised Land” back to Pereira, where we visited the YWAM base and packed up for the next day’s trip home. The week was not without its difficulties: we had to deal with more than a few temper tantrums, a stolen spare tire, and a repeatedly flat tire; traffic jams on the way to and from Pereira, the kids’ return flight to Bogotá was cancelled, and they had to scramble to take a bus.  But everyone really enjoyed this week-long trip, and we know that the kids made life-long memories.

Saying Goodbye

08:21 AM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

“Which is more helpful: sending money or sending people?” we are often asked.  While the “logical” answer may seem to be that sending a donation is more cost-effective, we know that when people come to Colombia, lives are forever changed: their lives, the children’s lives, and the staff’s lives.  And often, those who come for a short-term visit or as long-term volunteers  go home so “on fire” that they get others in their community excited and involved.  Many of them have even turned into long-term supporters of the work God is doing through Formando Vidas, so their impact is exponentially greater than a one-time donation would have been! Formando Vidas is a family.  In many families there are a few members who live far away and can’t visit often.  Just because you only see your aunt every couple of years doesn´t mean she is no longer part of the family!  In the same way, those who have for a time been part of the Formando Vidas family here in Colombia, and then go to another city or country, continue to be important for those of us who stay behind… and sometimes they come for a visit, reminding the kids that they are loved, and not forgotten! One of the more difficult things in Formando Vidas — for the kids as well as the adults — is forming attachments to wonderful volunteers who later say goodbye to follow God into other ventures.  But as the saying goes, “It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” As we say goodbye this month to three great volunteers, we remember dozens, hundreds, of marvellous folks who have impacted us through the years.  Each one has a story; each one shared part of their journey with us, with these kids; each one has gone on to do wonderful things in their home countries or beyond. Yes, we miss them.  Yes, it’s hard to see the children having to say goodbye, again.  But it is better to know that someone loved enough, someone cared enough, to leave part of their heart here… than to never know love at all. We will miss you, Edwin, Meesha, and Brittany; just like we miss so many others who have come and gone before!  Thank you to ALL the volunteers through the years: your lives helped shape this ministry!
blog staff


Heart of stone, Heart of flesh

10:10 AM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog, Light and Life  //  No Comments

He is a small child, an incredibly intelligent child, a child with a special “spark” of life.
So when we see his face stony with pent-up anger, the Continuing Education staff gets concerned about what’s going on in his life and how to help.

This year has been complicated for him and his family. Every day, Mom walks her love and dedication out on crutches to sell cleaning products door-to-door. Stepdad has been in and out of the hospital with depression, and Brothers have their own struggles. Oldest Brother has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and Middle Brother is experimenting with drugs and the streets instead of school. He — Youngest Brother — is much-loved, but Mom realized that home was not the place of protection and provision that it should be, so she lovingly released him to live in a Christian boys’ home this year.

He gets to go home on the weekends, and he comes to Light and Life School Tuesday-Friday for Continuing Education. But the whole situation is hard on the little man.

We pray for him, we talk with him, we laugh with him. We feed him, we help with homework, we take him to the doctor. We talk with his mom, we visit the boys’ home, we pray some more. We hug him, we listen; we write words of affirmation for him, which he tears up as he walks out the door.

trejos futbol

There is no heart so hard to reach as the one locked up for fear of being hurt. As C.S. Lewis says in his book, The Four Loves,

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

With the Spirit’s help, we keep praying, we keep loving, we keep ourselves vulnerable to the wounds he and others can inflict.

“ And I will give them one heart [a new heart] and I will put a new spirit within them; and I will take the stony [unnaturally hardened] heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh [sensitive and responsive to the touch of their God]” Ezekiel 11:19 (Amplified Bible)

La Bella

03:10 PM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

By Brittany Fairbanks

Little Miss M has been looking forward to and counting down for over a month to reach her 5th birthday, and I’m happy to say that I’m pretty sure all of her expectations and hopes for this day were met!  The dear child even managed to genuinely adore the cake I made her!  What began as an idea to make her a six-layer-rainbow-colored cake ended up in an avalanche of colors and frosting and edible glitter.  I think the most accurate description it recieved was that of a rainbow volcano.  But she loved it.

Birthdays are one of my most favorite things: I see them as a day dedicated to really celebrate and appreciate and delight in the lives of the people we love.  And come on, when else do you get the opportunity to buy a piñata?!

A few weeks ago I walked into a second-hand clothing store and encountered what I instantly recognized as the perfect birthday present for our girly-girl Miss M: a fluffy, glittery, yellow & gold Princess Belle dress in just her size.

Tonight, as I passed out pieces of rainbow/volcano cake, M opened up her presents and I took delight in watching her reactions to each one, especially to the princess crown from Bibi, the sparkly black heels from Evie, and of course her Princess Belle dress.  After she had finished opening everything up I took her down the hall to change into her new treasures, and then I watched as she walked carefully down the hall in her clicky new heels and her swishy new dress, beaming as she re-entered her party.

I don’t ever want to forget this night.  I don’t ever want to forget how her eight-year-old brother gasped and said soft & sweet: ”She’s so beautiful!” or how we who know and love her ooooo-ed and awwww-ed over this little princess, but I especially don’t want to forget what was radiating from our little girl.  M was radiant, she was glowing, and it wasn’t just because she felt beautiful, it was because she felt loved.  She felt celebrated and appreciated and delighted-in.  She felt special, she felt important, she felt valuable.  And she is.

princess belle

I may or may not have started crying a little bit… because the thing is, this is a little girl who was not wanted by her mother, this is a little girl whose five years began by being rejected, neglected, and abandoned.  But M’s story didn’t end there, although it easily could have.  M has a rescuer, and His name is Abba.  God plucked this little girl out of darkness and placed her into the midst of people who love and delight in her.  We’re not a typical family, but we are the people God has brought together (from 4 different countries!) to be a family.  And because of this, M can dance around, all radiant and sparkly-like, and know that she is deeply and irrevocably and truly loved.

Who is the Third Person?

03:20 PM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

carrito tanque
One Saturday at the Jungle we were learning about our three-in-one Friend, Helper, Savior, Father: God.  All of the kids chimed in to say who the first person is, “God the Father!”  After explaining the second person, they all shouted out, “Jesus!”

As Edwin started explaining that there is a third person, a cute little girl from the coast turned to me and said with great conviction, “Teacher, I know who the third one is.”  There was hardly a pause for me to congratulate her when she continued, “La Virgen del Carmen.”

I quickly recovered from my momentary shock to tell her, “Let’s listen and see who it is!”  And we listened as Edwin introduced “The Holy Spirit” as the third person of the Trinity.

Catholicism here is more about honoring the Virgin Mary and other saints than Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  There are thousands of “Virgin Marys” whom many people highly regard, with images or statues of her in their homes and vehicles.  Most Catholics here see Mary as someone who answers prayers and petitions and provide safety to her devotees, instead of a woman chosen by God for His work, who recognized her need for a Savior.

This precious little girl at the Jungle is growing up in this context, where the Holy Spirit – who resides with us at all times, speaks to us and guides us – has been replaced by an idol.  Thank God for opportunities to share the truth with her, and let’s keep praying for God’s work to be completed in her life!

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion 
until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Living as Sons and Daughters

09:51 AM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

baby-chick-baby-animals-19793582-500-332                                 la foto (2)

Previously, we wrote about how our chickens are teaching us about the Spirit of Adoption, and how we can be gathered under God’s mothering wings and become members of his family, with the full rights of His children. Rights and privileges like: extravagant love, a new identity, transforming power, protection, and companionship.
Our three adopted chicks were fitting in just fine and learning to be free-range hens and roosters.

But an intruder entered the coop to find a tasty morsel. When we returned home and passed by the pen, all the chicks were safely snuggled under the hen’s feathers inside the nest box… except for the three new babies. We found them lying dead in the grass where, just hours earlier, they had been enjoying their new freedom and identity. Some wild animal had found a way to sneak in, and killed only those three chicks.

We had previously seen the hen attack dangers (such as our pet cat), fearlessly protecting her chicks. What was different this time? Why had she not protected them?

Finally, the answer: When the predator entered the pen, surely the hen clucked and called her babies to her, and prepared herself for battle. Nine of her twelve chicks heard the call and ran to safety under her wings. The three who had just been adopted into the family were left, defenseless.

They didn’t know that she was their mother.
They didn’t know that a mother hen would protect them, their only chance at survival in a world outside of an incubator or a cage.
So, they were sons and daughters but they didn’t know that they had the right to ask for help.

Are we enjoying the full benefits of being God’s sons and daughters? Or do we think we have to stand alone in the face of danger?

4 de Julio 743

Joy, Encountered

10:35 AM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

By Ingrid Letendre The first Camp we did last October was as perfect as one could get on earth: from the weather to the staff to the activities… everything, really.  But this year it wasn’t perfect and I was a little discouraged, to be honest. boys pool At the younger boys two-day camp, we had to struggle to get them to participate in activities, and on top of that we were short staffed. At one point I was close to tears but just at the right time I was standing beside one of the campers and hear him comment to himself, “This is the best vacation I ever had in my entire life.” Three of our counselors for the younger girls’ camp couldn’t come at the last minute, so when the girls arrived I was scrambling to change cabins and staff around. On top of that, it was rainy for almost the whole time, so I had to come up with all new activities. But one day when we were playing in the rain, I could hear the girls’ laughter and it was just what I needed. That evening at supper we tied everyone’s hands together and they had to eat like that. Again, their laughter arrived at just the right time, and it brought so much joy to my heart. hands tied                              girls 614        water fight


For the teenage girls’ four-day camp, it rained three days, I was really sick, and I had some trouble with a counselor. In the midst of these struggles, I saw one young woman whose heart has become very hard, in tears because she had a revelation of the Father’s love for her. I could also see growth in the girls I’ve been working with for years: not complaining, not asking to switch cabins, and one of them handled a conflict really well by talking to her counselor instead of exploding in the situation. All of these good moments came right at the times where I was feeling most discouraged. And once we all got back home, I reflected on these kids’ lives. I think of a little 8-year-old girl, whose mom hides cocaine in her daughter’s shoe when they go visit people in prison. I remember the 9-year-old boy whose father left and brother just died. There is a 10-year-old girl responsible for the care of her younger siblings and cousins, and so many teens used to being rejected, or in abusive relationships, who have built brick walls around their hearts. Thinking about these children, I look back at Camp Gozo this June and see all the love the received, notice all the healthy relationships that were formed, remember their smiles and hear their laughter. I look back and know that even though it wasn’t perfect, I am learning what things to do differently in the future. Looking back, I know that God wanted each and every one of these lives there, I see how hearts were changed, and I am so thankful that my heavenly Father loves me so much that He chose me to be part of this dream He has for His children in Colombia. boys 614

The Spirit of Adoption

10:33 AM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

One of the newest additions to the Restored Heritage Farm are chickens!  One of our volunteer couples recently bought a hen and her nine fluffy babies, who have been drawing a lot of attention from the children.  When we heard that a local feed store would be selling chicks, we started investigating if a hen can take care of chicks that aren’t her own.  The experts say that she can, but the strange babies should be introduced to the nest at night, so the hen doesn’t realize they’re not her own.  To experiment, we bought three more handfuls of yellow fluff to place under the hen at night.

Before the placement with the foster hen, one of the kids commented, “They don’t have a mom.” This began a conversation about the difference between free range (criollo) chickens, like the ones we already had, versus chicken farm chicks who hatch in an incubator.

“So, they have a mom, but they don’t know her,” was the summary given.

Upon receiving this information, and with hardly a second thought, the boy responded, “Pero ahora van a tener una mamá de corazón!”  Which basically translates into, “But now they’re going to have an adoptive mom – a mommy in their hearts!”

Flor y los niños

The hen did, indeed, adopt the three incubator chicks.  And now they are learning to be free range chickens, scratching in the grass for bugs, hiding under her wings, and preening when she preens in the sun.

Jesus commented that he desired to gather his people like a mother hen gathers her chicks, which she does to warm, comfort, and protect them.  And those of us who wish to be “adopted” into the family have full privileges to that loving care.  We might look a little different than the other chicks, but together we’re all learning to range freely in abundance of life.

Many of the children living in Formando Vidas’ full-time care homes are obviously not our biological children.  We’re different colors, of different nationalities, shapes, sizes and accents.  But how beautiful that a hen and a young boy can remind us that having a “heart family” is straight from God’s heart, who has given us the Spirit of Adoption.  And just as the chicks cry out to the hen, we can boldly cry out, “Abba!  Daddy!” and run under his protective, comforting wings.

Water of Life

01:28 PM   //   by Emily Garrett Peña   //   Blog  //  No Comments

The phrase “water is life” takes on new meaning when you live on the farm. Colombia has been in an extended drought, and over the last year we even had some time with no water at our farm. We continue to practice stewardship with this precious resource, and to pray for rain and for God’s miracles. Recently, after a few good rains, Steve walked up the mountain to check on the springs… but they were dry. He was very frustrated, but decided to praise God anyways, remembering this passage in Habakkuk 3:17-18, “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LordI will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

After a short time, an idea came to mind, so he walked further up to a different part of the property, to where he felt God had directed him. From a distance he could hear water splashing, and picked up his pace to see a NEW spring, gushing out from under some tree roots and pouring into a pool below! Joyfully, Steve ran back down to get some unused plastic hoses, tied the lengths together with bits of a discarded inner-tube, and shoved one end into the hole under the tree. The stream of water now flows down to the system of pipes that eventually arrives to our houses on the farm, providing fresh water for the children and staff!

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14